Learn step by step how to smoke perfect baby back ribs on a Traeger pellet grill!
We cover how to prep, season, cook, and sauce your baby backs using the 3 2 1 Method and why the Traeger pellet grill makes it so easy to cook these ribs.
Baby Back Ribs vs. Spareribs
Why do we LOVE baby back ribs so much?
Well it may have to do with them being leaner and sometimes meatier than there sparerib counterparts, also known as St. Louis Style or St. Louis Cut Ribs.
Now, they both come from the same rib, hogs don’t have one set of baby back ribs and another set of spareribs.
But, the baby backs are cut from the 1/3 of that rib that is closer to the spine, or back of the pig, in the same area as the spinalis muscle, or loin, where the pork chops are taken from.
In fact, a full size, untrimmed, bone-in pork chop would have a baby back rib attached to it.
Baby back ribs share a lot of the same leaner whiter meat which is why they are so delicious, but also easier than spareribs to over cook and dry out if not cooked properly.
We will go over:
- How to keep these lean baby back ribs moist while smoking them on your Traeger.
- How to wrap them so that they become fall off the bone tender.
- How to season and sauce them with some of the best products on the market.
How Many Racks of Baby Back Ribs Should I Buy to Cook on my Traeger?
If you are feeding a crowd, you may be trying to decide how many slabs of baby back ribs you need to cook on your traeger to feed everyone.
Most hungry adults can easily eat a half a slab which is about 6 ribs.
Take into consideration if you are also serving other proteins or a lot of heavy sides in which case folks may only take 3-4 ribs.
One great way to fit a lot of ribs at once on your Traeger is to use a Rib Rack.
You can stand 5 racks upright and fit around 10 slabs on a typical Traeger pellet grill so you can feed a large crowd!
How to Prepare Baby Back Ribs for the Traeger Pellet Grill
Remove the Membrane
Once you have removed your slabs of baby back ribs from the packaging, you will need to remove the membrane on the back of each rack.
This membrane not only keeps the seasonings from penetrating the meat, but makes the ribs harder to carve and bite into or fall off the bone, and is well…just generally unappetizing to your guests.
Luckily it’s not hard to remove with a couple tricks used by BBQ professionals all over the world every day.
First, slide a good sharp knife, preferably a good boning knife like our favorite one from Imarku to get the membrane separated from one of the corners.
Next, once you can grab a little bit of the membrane, use a paper towel to grip it tight and pull down to the other corner.
Sometimes it comes off in one big piece, other times you will need to go back and remove some pieces that didn’t come off, but using a paper towel is the best way to get a hold of this slippery membrane.
Once this membrane is removed, you are ready to season your baby back ribs.
Apply the Rub
Mustard? But of Course!
Believe it or not, one of the best ways to bind your rub to your meat is with plain old yellow mustard.
And trust the thousands of BBQ competitors who have used it over the years. You won’t taste any mustard flavor once the cook is over and it holds the rub in place like a champ.
Simply spread a thin layer of yellow mustard all over the front and back of your baby backs and then sprinkle your rub on after that.
If you are separating out your salt from your rub, add the salt first, then the rub on top of that so that the salt is closer to the surface of the meat.
If you truly have an aversion to using any kind of mustard, you can also substitute a thin layer of any kind of cooking oil you wish. But make sure to use something as this will help the rub adhere to the meat and not fall off as you are handling it.
Let the Rub Rest
Once you’ve applied your rub to the baby backs, don’t throw them right on the Traeger just yet.
Give the rub about 20-30 minutes to draw some moisture out of the meat and create a nice paste on the outside of the meat.
This pulled out moisture will absorb a lot of your smoke flavor, and eventually that moisture will make its way BACK into the meat as it rises in temperature pulling your delicious rub and absorbed smoke with it into the meat and also helping to create that coveted pink smoke ring.
The Best Rubs and Sauces for Cooking Baby Back Ribs on a Traeger
Our Favorite Baby Back Rib Rub Brands and Homemade Rub Recipe
Asking “What’s the best rub for ribs?” is kind of like asking “What is the best car on the market?”, or “Who was the best baseball player?”
You are bound to start some opinionated discussions.
But like all things BBQ, it comes down to your personal preferences, dietary restrictions, the crowd you are cooking for, and really, just what you happen to be in the mood for that day.
If you don’t want a lot of salt, make your own rub and cut back on the salt. If you don’t want a lot of sugar, we’ve got a great suggestion below for that too.
What we CAN say is we’ve tried A LOT of rubs and sauces over the years, and these are our favorites below.
Blues Hog products are widely used on the competition circuit, and for good reason.
Their original rub is very sugar and paprika forward, without a lot of spice, so if you are going for a sweeter flavor for your baby backs, this is the way to go.
Three Little Pigs is one of our personal favorites, and their Kansa City Championship rub will give you a bit more garlic, onion, and spice than Blues Hog will.
You can always mix it in with a more balanced rub like Blues Hog if you just want to add a little of those flavors.
If you want to use a quality rub without ANY sugar, we are big fans of Bad Byron’s Butt Rub Seasoning.
Although we typically use it on cuts of beef and steaks where we are going for a more savory flavor, there is no reason you can’t apply it to your Traeger smoked baby back ribs because it is heavy on flavor, and has no sugar.
Meathead’s Memphis Dust
It’s so good, you don’t even need sauce.
Now, Meathead doesn’t put salt in any of his rub recipes but rather salts his meat separately first.
So make sure to take that into consideration if you choose to prepare this classic rub for your baby back ribs.
Homemade “In a Pinch” Rub
Sometimes, you forgot you ran out of your favorite rub, or don’t have all the ingredients on hand to make a complex one from scratch.
If you just want to get a good classic rub on your baby back ribs before throwing them on the Traeger, then we’ve got you covered with this simple rib rub recipe with seasonings most people have on hand in the pantry:
- 1/2 Cup Dark Brown Sugar
- 1/4 Cup Paprika
- 1 Tbsp Coarse Ground Black Pepper
- 1 Tbsp Kosher Salt (Or 1/2 Tbsp table salt, go easy, you can always add more salt later)
- 1 Tbsp Chili Powder
- 1/2 Tbsp Granulated Garlic or Garlic Powder (adjust to taste)
- 1/2 Tbsp Onion Powder (adjust to taste)
- 1 Tsp Cayenne Pepper (optional)
Mix thoroughly, (using a re-usable plastic shaker works best), and then sprinkle directly on your ribs after applying some jstard to bind as described above.
Our Favorite Baby Back Rib Sauces
Blues Hog again wins the day here with their amazing lineup of sauces. While their rubs are great, their sauces are WORLD CLASS.
Their Original BBQ Sauce is VERY thick, VERY sweet, and incredibly heavy on flavor, so a little goes a LONG way.
You can pick up both and mix them like we do, or mix Blues Hog Original in with one of your other favorite (we’d suggest more savory sauces to balance the sugar, like this one from Aaron Franklin.)
The Best Wood Pellets for Smoking Baby Back Ribs on a Traeger Pellet Grill
You have a lot of options when it comes to choosing the right wood pellets to smoke your baby back ribs on a Traeger pellet grill.
Mesquite and hickory will give a very aggressive smoke flavor to the lean baby back ribs, usually a little too much if used solely on their own rather than mixed with a milder fruitwood.
Pecan, apple, beech, alder, and cherry pellets all give great results on baby backs when cooked on a Traeger.
For a very straightforward flavor on baby backs, we are also big fans of Bear Mountain Red and White Smoky Oak Pellets
For the best results, store your unused pellets in a sealed room temperature container rather than in the Traeger’s hopper outside.
Traeger pellets do not last forever, but will definitely last a LOT longer if stored indoors.
How a Traeger Pellet Grill Works
In order to cook ANYTHING well on a Traeger pellet grill, you need to first have a basic understanding of how a pellet grill works.
***Completely New to Using a Pellet Grill? No Worries!****
Hop over and check out this Complete Guide to Understanding How a Pellet Grill Works if you are interested in learning more in depth. We’ll be here when you get back!***
Add your Hardwood Pellets
First, you add hardwood pellets into the side hopper.
The Traeger pellet grill automatically feeds these small wood pellets via an auger mechanism to a fire pot where they are burned up, providing both heat and smokey flavor.
The pellet grill automatically controls the flow of pellets depending on your temperature setting so that you maintain an even temperature throughout the entire cook.
How to Start up the Traeger
There is a specific start up process for the Traeger brand pellet grills you can read all about in depth here if you aren’t sure how to fire it up the first time.
Otherwise, here is the basic process for how to start a Traeger before throwing on your baby back ribs:
- Plug in the grill.
- Flip the power switch to ON and turn the dial to “Smoke”.
- You will hear the fan kick on and the auger start to move and begin to kick pellets into the fire pot. Your fire rod will begin to heat up as well.
- Leave the lid open for about 5-7 minutes until you start to see white billowing smoke come out of the grill. This happens when the pellets are first igniting.
- Once a smoke is being produced, close the lid and change the temperature dial to your desired temperature setting.
- Allow about 10-15 minutes to preheat the grill.
- While you are waiting, make sure you’ve got the drip pan in place and the grease bucket hanging to catch any grease that comes out during the cook.
- Put your grates on if they aren’t already in place.
- Using a good bristle free grill brush, clean off the grill grates if there is any leftover stuck on food from the last cook.
- When the pellet grill comes up to temperature go ahead and put on your food!
Rather Watch than Read?
Check out this great video from J&K BBQ outlining exactly how to make great Baby Back Ribs on a Traeger using the 3 2 1 Method. Otherwise read on below!
How to Cook Baby Back Ribs on a Traeger Pellet Grill
Now that the baby back ribs have been seasoned and the rub has rested and permeated the meat a bit, all that’s left to do is cook them!
With a Traeger, this is the easy part!
Like we described above, just add your chosen pellets to the hopper, plug in and start the Traeger grill up.
Pro Tip: Line your slabs up with the thicker ends to the right, which is normally the hotter side of the Traeger.
What Temperature do you Cook Baby Back Ribs on a Traeger Pellet Grill?
We recommend initially setting up the smoker to cook at 250°F.
This seems to be the sweet spot where its low enough that the outside doesn’t overcook but also high enough that the baby backs don’t cook for so long that they dry out.
If you choose to cook at a higher or lower temperature, make sure to adjust your times during each stage of The 3 2 1 Method outlined below.
Using The 3 2 1 Method to Cook Baby Back Ribs on a Traeger Pellet Grill
A popular technique for smoking ribs is what’s known as The 3 2 1 Method.
This refers to the following blocks of time:
- The First 3 Hours: Smoking the ribs
- The Next 2 Hours: Wrapping the ribs in foil so that they steam and get tender and more “Fall off the Bone” style.
- The Last 1 Hour: Taking them out of the foil and putting them back on the grill to firm up and finally saucing them during the last 30 minutes.
Now, this is just a framework, and a way of simplifying the process. Understand that in BBQ there are no absolutes.
You can keep your Traeger pegged at 250°F throughout this whole process.
The First 3 Hours – Smoke
3 hours is a suggestion. You may only need to smoke the baby ribs for 2 hours before wrapping.
The idea is to get a nice smoke flavor on them and get them to turn a nice dark red and amber color without completely drying them out.
One way to keep them from drying out is to spritz them with some sort or flavorful juice, cola, or beer during this part of the cook. Many BBQ pros like to use a mixture of 75% apple juice and 25% apple cider vinegar. Some use cherry cola and swear by the sugar caramelizing on the surface.
Once you have a nice color of the ribs after about 1.5 to 2 hours, keep a close eye on them if you cook any longer. You want to avoid burnt edges and big splits across the top of the meat.
You can rotate them a bit during this time if one side of your Traeger is a lot hotter than the other. If you are using rib racks, turn them over about half way through the cook to make sure they cook evenly.
The Next 2 Hours – Wrap
Again, 2 hours is a suggestion, and with baby backs, unlike their fattier sparerib counterparts, you probably won’t need to wrap a full 2 hours.
The longer you wrap, the more the ribs will steam and become fall off the bone tender. But over do it and you’ll end up with a foil bag of bare bones and loose shredded pork.
So wrap tightly for 45 minutes to an hour and then check every 15 minutes until you see the meat pulling away from the ends of the bones.
This is usually a good indicator they are ready to come out of the foil.
Have fun with your ingredients inside the foil. may BBQ competitors use a combination Parkay squeeze butter, brown sugar, and honey to make a sweet glazy bath for their ribs in the foil.
Pro Tip: For more moist, fall off the bone meat, place the ribs upside down into your foil wrap of ingredients, wrap, and then place on the grill upside down this way. Then turn them back over right side up to firm up later when you remove form the foil in step 3.
The Final Hour – Firm and Sauce
It may take a few cooks for you to learn exactly how long to wrap your ribs based on how you like them.
Once you are ready to remove them from the foil be careful, the steam and liquid will be EXTREMELY HOT!
We recommend a good pair of insulated meat handling gloves to easily pick up the hot rack of baby backs rather than trying to awkwardly use forks and tongs.
For one, you don’t want to burn yourself, but you also don’t want to end up with a hot slippery slab of ribs on the ground.
Place the baby back ribs back on the Traeger unwrapped and right side up (or back in the rib rack) and give them about 30 minutes to firm up a little before you start putting on any sauce.
This will give the sauce some time to caramelize on the ribs a bit and stick to the meat.
You are welcome to crank the heat on your Traeger here for the last 30 minutes up to 275-300°F but just make sure not to burn the sugars in you sauce.
How to Carve and Serve Traeger Smoked Baby Back Ribs
When it comes to slicing up and serving your Traeger baby back ribs, you can stand them upright to see the lines of the bones easier and cut top to bottom.
A good meat slicing knife makes all the difference and will keep the baby backs form falling apart as you slice.
We particularly like this meat slicing knife from Mairico.
We don’t recommended cutting every rib up individually before serving or they are more likely to dry out.
Depending how many guest you are serving, you can either give each person their own 1/3 to 1/2 slab, or put them on a platter cut up in 2-3 rib sections for people to take with tongs.
Serve some extra sauce on the side for those who want it, and enjoy!
What Other Food Can I Smoke on my Traeger?
Looking for some more smoky inspiration?
So glad you asked.
Check out some of our other great recipes of smoked and grilled food you can easily modify to prepare on a Traeger pellet grill at your next outdoor BBQ!
- Smoked Prime Rib on a Pellet Grill
- Smoked Ribeye Roast
- Hot and Fast Smoked Beef Brisket
- Smoked London Broil
- Smoked Corned Beef
- Smoked and Reverse Seared Ribeye Steaks
- Pellet Grilled Steak
- Perfect Grilled Hamburgers
Pork, Turkey, and Chicken
- Smoked Fresh Ham with Dark Rum Citrus Glaze
- Pellet Grilled Pork Chops
- Spatchcocked Chicken on a Pellet Grill
- Smoked Turkey Breast with Cajun Butter Injection
- Spiral Sliced Smoked Hot Dogs
- Smoked Bratwurst with Beer Braised Onions
- Gas Grilled Bratwurst
- Pellet Grilled Bratwurst
- Pellet Grill Turkey
- Honey Smoked Salmon
- Smoked Oysters in a Garlic White Wine Sauce
- Smoked Scallops with Lemon Butter Sauce
- Smoked Lobster Tails
- Honey Smoked Tilapia
- Smoked Halibut with Garlic BBQ Rub
- Smoked Leg of Lamb with Guinness Marinade
- Smoked Lamb Chops with a Balsamic Butter Sauce
- Smoked Rack of Lamb with Garlic and Rosemary or Smoker
- Smoked and Pulled Lamb Shoulder with a Turkish Spice Rub
- Smoked Lamb Shanks
Odds and Ends
Trash Can Turkey – OK, technically not made on a Traeger but one of the most fun ways there is to cook a Turkey…at over 700 degrees in only 2 hours!
You’ve got to check it out!
Traeger Baby Back Ribs
- Traeger Pellet Grill
- Wood Pellets (preferably fruitwood or oak)
- Empty Spray Bottle
- Rib Rack (optional)
- Aluminum Foil
- Heat Resistant BBQ Gloves
- Basting brush
- Meat Slicing Knife
- 2 Racks Baby Back Ribs
- 2 Tbsp Yellow Mustard
- 1 cup Your Favorite BBQ Sauce such as Blues Hog
- 1 cup Dark Brown Sugar
- ½ cup Paprika
- 2 Tbsp Course Ground Black Pepper
- 2 Tbsp Kosher Salt (or 1/2 Tbsp Table Salt)
- 2 Tbsp Chili Powder
- 1 Tbsp Granulated Garlic
- 1 Tbsp Onion Powder
- 2 Tsp Cayenne Powder (optional for heat)
- ½ cup Apple Juice
- ¼ cup Apple Cider Vinegar
Wrapping Seasonings (optional)
- 1 Cup Dark Brown Sugar
- 2 drizzles Honey
- 2 drizzles Parkay Squeeze butter
- 2 drizzles Tiger Sauce (optional for heat)
- Start up the Traeger pellet grill, add your chosen pellets to the hopper, and set the temperature to 250°F
Prepare the Ribs and Spritz
- Remove the membrane from the back each rack of baby back ribs using a knife to get it started in one corner, then grabbing on with a paper towel and pulling towards the opposite corner.
- Apply a thin layer of yellow mustard to the front and backs of each rack of ribs and rub to coat entirely.
- Use your favorite BBQ rub or mix the rub ingredients listed above together in a bowl or shaker.
- Apply a generous amount of rub to the fronts and backs of each slab of baby back ribs. Its ok to leave some rub leftover to apply more throughout the cook if needed.
- Let the rub set on the ribs at room temperature for about 20-30 minutes before putting them on the Traeger.
- While the rub is setting, mix the apple juice and apple cider vinegar together in a spray bottle.
3 - Smoke the Ribs
- Once the Traeger is making smoke and up to 250°F, place the ribs on the grill with the thickest sides to the right (the hotter end of the grill). Use a rib rack if preparing more than 4 racks of baby back ribs at once.
- Close the lid and let the ribs cook for about 90 minutes. You can spritz gently as necessary to keep the meat moist if it begins to look dry.
- After 90 minutes rotate the ribs if one side appears darker than the other and begin checking them about every 15-20 minutes.
- While they are smoking, you can prepare your foil and wrapping ingedients.
2 - Wrap the Ribs
- Lay out 2 long pieces of heavy duty aluminum foil on top of each other on the counter, long enough to double wrap the rack of ribs front and back with the two pieces. Repeat with the other rack.
- Spread ½ cup of brown sugar on each set of aluminum foil, then drizzle some honey, parkay squeeze butter, and Tiger Sauce on each. (this is optional)
- Once the ribs are a nice dark amber color and especially if you begin to see any very dark burning on the bones or ends, usually around the 2.5 hour mark, remove them from the grill using tongs or heat resistant gloves.
- Place the baby back ribs face down into each pile of aluminum foil and ingredients.
- If you would rather not use the wrapping ingredients listed above, place the ribs in the foil face up and add a small amount of apple juice, soda, or beer to the aluminum foil to add some moisture.
- Wrap the ribs tightly in the double layer of aluminum foil and place back on the Traeger and continue to cook at 250°F.
1 - Firm and Sauce the Ribs
- Begin checking the ribs after about 45-60 minutes and every 15 minutes after that. Once you see the meat pulling away from the ends of bones and tenderizing, you can take them out of the foil. This may only take 1 to 1.5 hours rather than 2.
- Carefully remove the ribs form the foil and save the juices in the foil to add to your sauce later. Place the ribs back on the Traeger, face up, and cook for about 30 more minutes at 250°F before saucing.
- While the ribs are cooking, prepare your sauce by mixing you favorite sauce(s) together with some of the juices retained from the foil. Mix in a cup or bowl and set aside.
- After the baby backs have been back on the Traeger unwrapped for about 30 minutes and firmed back up a little, gently brush the sauce on with a basting brush.
- Close the lid and continue cooking for another 30 minutes to let the sauce thicken and set on the meat.
Carving and Serving
- Remove the ribs from the Traeger and let them rest for about 15 minutes.
- Turn the ribs upright on their edge so that you can more easily see the ribs running along the bottom up and own.
- Using a good meat slicing knife cut from top to bottom between the bones in the center of the racks to serve a half rack to each person. Or you cna cut them into 2-3 rib portions of serving ona. platter to a larger crowd.
- include some sauce on the side for guests to add extra if they desire and enjoy!
Recipe: Traeger Baby Back Ribs